Monday, August 31, 2009

That Gaggle of Friends I've Been Craving on Guernsey

The gentleness of Heaven broods o'er the sea—Listen, the mighty being is awake.

I rarely take the time to reread anything. I'm far too much of a plodder and ponderer for that to be at all practical. And yet I've been rereading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society to present to a book group from my church today. What delightful fun to revisit those wonderful characters, who, by the end of the book almost felt like friends. As I wrote here,
At some point I was drawn into their world so completely I could not put the book down. The characters came to life, inhabiting my subconscious. One night I actually had a dream that I went to Guernsey to hang out with them. I was a little sad when I woke up and realized it was just a dream. I love these people. I love their simple way of life. I love that they founded their whole book club in an effort to make a harmless lie become rock-solid truth. I love their silly quirks and antics, and their acceptance of the same in each other. I love the humanity that rises to the surface.
This second time around, I liked it even more. I found the letters in Part One more enjoyable, partly because it was so much easier to keep all the characters straight now. I also noticed all kinds of things—from subtle nuances to wry hilarity—that I somehow missed the first time around. The most salient themes emerged as integrity, kindness and courage.

I found a bit of the fiery Juliet, witty author and teapot-hurler, in myself today when I fired off this email to my husband (after a vexing and unproductive phone call to a creditor):
I responded very quickly and calmly and saccharine-sweetly (but seething venom), "Okay, well I'm going to blow a gasket very soon so I need to get off the phone right now, but I'll have him get back to you. Bye." Then it took everything within my power not to throw the phone through the closed window, shattering glass and phone parts from here to kingdom come. Somehow I managed to set it back down on the desk. :)
I also found a deep resonant empathy for the Islanders when I read that the most difficult part of the war for them was sending their children away (as evacuees) in order to keep them safe. Having recently sent our son away (to a boarding school) in order to keep him safe, I completely identify with the love, courage and raw emotion associated with that choice.

I visited a friend this week who actually grew up on one of the Channel Islands and spent hours poring over scrapbooks, newspaper articles, and photos of Jersey and Guernsey. Photos that would blow you away, they're so beautiful. Big, rocky cliffs covered with cascading greens, rising up out of sandy beaches. Quaint villages and crowded seaports. I fell in love all over again. (And cannot resist the urge to paint it.)

So of course I'm still pining away for a chance to go there and visit in person—a chance to befriend such wonderful, quirky, and unpretentious people. We talked this morning about how blogging today is similar to the collection of letters in the novel, weaving lives together through so many individual voices. And then I had an epiphany: I don't need to fly around the world for that. I have a whole cadre of equally delightful characters right here at my fingertips:

There's Heidi, a witty romance writer and mother to an adult child with highly special needs
There's Heather of the EO, who warms her way into everyone's hearts with just a handful of well-chosen words, and reveals such faith through her mothering.
There's Kimberly, a wry Canadian whose self-awareness and personal growth are both amusing and inspiring.
There's Brillig, who grew up all over the world, bubbles with enthusiasm, and is so down to earth you can't help but love her immediately. She parents four children, including a toddler with autism.
There's Mrs. 4444, who comes from a huge, FUNctional family, works with Special Ed teens and has the most contagiously positive outlook on life (probably necessary for that career).
There's Jessica, whose faith is a pillar and whose beautiful writing runs so deep.
There's Eowyn, who is a natural nurturer and a brilliant editor. And she makes a mean loaf of bread. With homemade jam. Yeah.
There's DeNae, who literally makes me laugh out loud with every post. And knows the scriptures inside-out. (Go figure) She gets it. Big time.
There's Melanie J, who is talented and funny, and astounds me with her inner strength. (Did I mention that she looks like a supermodel?)
There's Kazzy, who writes like poetry and finds so much meaning in everyday wonders, including her special-needs kindergarten.
There's InkMom, who won me over from her sidebar alone...and who has the coolest curly hair.
There's Steph @ D&D, who always stays on target, seeking the divinity in motherhood.
There's Novembrance, who is beyond brilliant, and published a killer cookbook which I use almost daily.
There's Kristina P, who visits everyone in the blogosphere, making us all laugh, and sometimes makes us blush with her outrageous mockery. Yet there is such caring beneath all the snarkiness.
There's LT Elliott, who astonishes me with her unerring kindness and generosity of heart.
There's Breckster, filling a tiny NYC apartment with music and knitting and literature and cooking...and soon another baby on the way.
There's Allison, hilarious diva from California on an adventure in North Carolina...almost like a reverse Beverly Hillbilly!
There's the fabulous Munro family, in Queensland, Australia, so full of enthusiasm and zest for life, coupled with deep faith: Sandy, thoughtful mother of eight and voracious reader; and Tammy, perpetually jovial filmmaker and brilliant pianist.
Ditto the deep faith for LisAway, in Poland. There is something about this girl that just draws people to her like a magnet.
And there are many more friends here I'm just beginning to discover.

To quote Juliet, "I began writing letters to strangers in Guernsey, now friends, whom I would indeed like to come and see." and later, "Guernsey is beautiful and my new friends have welcomed me so generously, so warmly, that I haven't doubted I've done right to come here —."
I echo Juliet's every word, merely replacing Guernsey with Cyberspace. Most of these "strangers" I've now met in person. And they are even better in person than their wonderful words can convey.

There is also a menagerie of characters right here in my very own neighborhood. I can't possibly list them all, but I promise you, some of their idiosyncrasies amuse me no end, while their pure goodness blows me away. And I left behind an entire surrogate family in California, all of whom I dearly love.

So I guess I don't need to travel to Guernsey to find those kinds of friends. In fact, in some ways the book helped me appreciate even more the ones I have right here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I'm just a click away...

A longtime blogging buddy of mine asked me to guest-post on his blog today. That's right—I said his. And it was a not a typo. I have one blogger-friend who's a man, and he's known as Gunfighter. He works in law enforcement in the Washington, D.C. area, and is a wonderful father, a seeker of truth, and a great writer, plus a heckuva nice guy.

I wrote the post last weekend, about my experience seeing the movie Julie and Julia...and the emotions it brought up for me. The thought process was pretty intense.

But it's not here, it's over go pay a visit to my friend Gunfighter.
Then come back and tell me what you thought.


Thursday, August 20, 2009


  • Lazy mornings and lavish midday brunches (Crepes with peaches and whipped cream, anyone?)
  • Long unscheduled days, open to all kinds of possibility.
  • Lingering conversations, unhindered by the demands of time.
  • Vacationing to favorite getaways, until we're worn out from our own self-imposed fun.
  • Finding a comfy spot to curl up and bury our nose in a book, and another, and another.
  • Lounging on the patio and dining al fresco.
  • Practicing golf swings with Grandpa.
  • Walking barefoot on the lawn, with grass tickling our toes.
  • Wonderful friends visiting from faraway places.
  • Sticky snow cones staining our tongues and dripping down our wrists.
  • Leisurely walks on mountain trails to warm springs and gushing waterfalls.
  • Downtime to think, and ponder, and daydream.
  • Fabulous sleepovers with cousins, cousins, and more cousins.
  • Late-night movies, revisiting old classics and new releases with equal fascination.
  • Dad reading novels out loud before bed.

The kids started school yesterday.
Our summer is officially over.

But the magical sun-drenched memories will warm us when the weather chills.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Capturing the Spirit of it All

I am ashamed to admit I succumb very easily to flattery in all its forms. Just before I left on vacation I received an advance reader copy of a new book. I was almost giddy that I’d been selected to read and review it. Don’t cringe when you see the title. Okay, do. Because I did. Sisterchicks in Wooden Shoes . Could it possibly be any more “chick lit”? Besides, I try to steer clear of those books that show the author’s name ten times bigger than the title. This woman sounds like a factory. I glanced inside to see what else she has written, and was even more skeptical when I saw how prolific she is. She’s probably written as many books as I’ve written blog posts.

And yet—

I read this definition on the back:
Sisterchick n: A friend who laughs with you till you cry and cries with you till you laugh; a gift from God.”

That resonated for me. I have friends like that. A very small handful. And I start to understand the wide success of this franchise (for lack of a better term for this enormously popular series of chick-lit novels.) These deep friends-who-feel-more-like-sisters all share a common bond that the author touched on in her definition: A spiritual component. How refreshing to have someone acknowledge that openly and honestly in mainstream fiction!

I glanced inside and read the prologue. Wow. An abnormal mammogram. And her mom died of breast cancer. And her first thought is she needs to spend a week on vacation with a wonderful friend. Has this woman been spying on me and my world? Did God send me this book? (I actually took a second look at the return address.)

Then I read the next chapter and fell in love with the main character. Because who doesn’t love a woman who engages in blatant cookie-dough therapy? I’m actually starting to think this book is about me. (Except that it isn’t. Because I don’t have any friends in the Netherlands.)

I dived right into the book, and couldn’t stop turning the pages because of the friendship, the spirituality, the resonance. (Besides, if it’s about me, I need to know what happens and how it ends.) This woman gets it. She gets women and their need for God and to close friends who share their beliefs.

I read about the devotional book she found on the night table of the guest room at her friend’s house, and remembered that I have a devotional book resting next to the sofabed in my guest room as well. I loved how comfortable they were discussing things of the spirit right along with the everyday, that it was such a natural part of both their lives. Because this is how my deepest friendships are too. It wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t share experiences and insights with that kind of depth and resonance.

The writing style didn’t appeal to me most of the time. I thought there were far too many descriptive details, along with every word of every conversation between the two friends. It’s kind of like hanging out with a friend who talks too much and won’t let you get a word in edgewise. In some ways I felt like I was tagging right along with them on vacation...but as the mute third wheel, eavesdropping like Gladys Kravitz. But I must admit I enjoyed the ride, even from the back seat.

As much as I enjoyed tagging along, it didn’t make me want to pick up the series and read all the rest of her books. Although it did make me want to join in the conversation. And ultimately, almost like nothing before, it made me want to write my own series of books about my own trips with my own Sisterchicks. (Except I don’t know if I can bring myself to use that word.) :)

I want to write about the life-changing hiking trip to Mammoth Resort with my friend CB, when I was deep in a post-partum depression. I want to write about my trip to the Salt Lake Temple with JH, and the great conversations we had driving up and down the canyon each day. I want to write about meeting AE in Colorado Springs, and how we saved each other’s sanity that week. I want to write about the time AS showed up at my house, unannounced, bearing two bags of Trader Joe’s goodies, and spent a wonderful week talking and cooking. I want to write about the museum trip with MB where we suddenly found ourselves conversing about the atonement with such joy in the shared discoveries. And I want to write about my amazing trip to California with MG to support her through an in vitro fertilization treatment, and the powerful effect it had on me.

My Sisterchicks (ouch! there I go, using that word again) are real. The time I spent with them was crucial, at pivotal points in my life. I honestly believe God placed them directly in my path at key moments in order to help me through some tough experiences (and vice-versa). Despite any issues I may have had with the writing, I’m grateful to have read a book that helped me remember and appreciate my own beloved soul-friends with such rich, vivid detail.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

When "Back to School" Launched Me Forward

I went away to study Graphic Design at Otis/Parsons in Los Angeles when I was a skinny, shy 18-year-old. I was dragging a suitcase and kicking along a box of art supplies with my foot, slowly making my way to the curb to hail a cab. I was terrified to be alone in the heart of Los Angeles by myself. (Can you imagine? Coming from UTAH?) The dorm was right across the street from MacArthur Park (which we affectionately called MacMurder Park for the nightly killings taking place there.) I didn’t know a single soul. It was a scary-fast way to grow up and enter adulthood.

There was a broad range of characters...people so interesting and/or funny you’d swear I made them up: The rich Australian playboy whose dad ran a hotel school in Geneva and had just come via some fancy boarding school in France. The guy who walked and talked like a penguin, majored in fashion design, and almost got expelled for flushing plastic bags full of veggies down the toilet. The kind-hearted Jewish girl whose single mother was battling cancer. The smart kid from the midwest who drove his own car out, and loved to listen to bluegrass music. The couple who got kicked out of the dorms when the maids found whips and chains, and the bed smeared with whipped cream and honey. (I was like, What?) My own roommate from Chicago, who was allergic to air conditioning (Kill me now--I had to shower three times a day to survive that heat!).

That first evening, a teacher spoke to all the incoming students in the grand ballroom, attempting to educate us on being street-smart in the big city. She said she had her personal painting studio in the roughest part of town (although I honestly couldn’t imagine anyplace rougher than where we were!). She told us she kept getting stopped by panhandlers and was even mugged a couple of times on her way to the studio...until she got smart. Then, inspired with a solution only an artist would devise, she literally put together a “street-person costume” complete with bedraggled clothes, a big, baggy jacket, mismatched shoes, and an old misshapen hat she pulled way down to hide her face. She said once she started donning her “homeless outfit” to go to the studio, no one ever bothered her again!

Yeah, that first day of Design School was like crashing head-on into a train called World. But it didn’t kill me. To the contrary, I found it terrifyingly exhilarating, more like a launching pad hurling me toward real life!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In which I acquire five additional children...

My adorable little sister got home from the hospital yesterday. She is eight months pregnant...and was suddenly having gallstone attacks, along with pancreatitis and an overtaxed liver. It's a pretty dicey scenario. A little miracle on Monday allowed her to avoid surgery and return home. Now the doctors are trying just to keep the symptoms at bay and put off surgery until after the baby September.

She told me she was craving my Gazpacho* (which truly is’s from Michael's Restaurant in Beverly Hills) so I whipped up a batch and drove it to her house, an hour away. While we were there it occurred to me that I could take her kids back home with me, and give her an extra day of rest. She didn’t argue. (She never does. She’s totally fun-loving and easy-going.)

So, after a 30-minute lesson on how the kids’ carseats work, we were headed for home. With seven kids. I had a total Sound of Music moment: “Seven children?” “You do like children, Maria?” “Well, (gasp) yes, but, uh--SEVEN?!” Then I heard all their giggles tumbling over from the back seat like wind chimes and realized I finally (for a day, anyway) had the big family I had always envisioned. I reveled in it.

I woke up this morning with a start, remembering that I had seven children to entertain for the day. Summoning my inner Julie Andrews, I dismissed my usual morning demeanor (somewhere between grumpy and zombie) and staggered downstairs to fix everyone breakfast with a smile. Luisa's pancakes were the perfect answer. They were fast and delicious.

I braced myself for lots of whining and fighting and little people needing constant entertainment. But there wasn’t any of that. Magically, the older girls doted on the younger ones, the boys played together perfectly, and everybody had a great game of hide-and-seek in our acre of yard. It was painless. And fun. Even at mealtimes.

Actually, I think I was blessed. So that my sister could be blessed with some rest. I was so grateful I could lift her burdens for a day. When I delivered her kids this evening she had a radiant glow about her. That alone made everything worth it.

*California Gazpacho
6 cups tomato juice
1 red tomato, peeled, seeded, finely chopped
1 yellow tomato, peeled, seeded, finely chopped
1 medium cucumber, seeded and finely diced
1 medium Maui onion, finely diced
1/2 each red and yellow bell peppers, finely diced
1/2 bunch cilantro, stemmed and finely chopped
1 clove minced garlic
1 lime, juiced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Extra cilantro for garnish

In a large mixing bowl combine the tomato juice with all the vegetables, the lime juice, olive oil, and vinegar. Cover and chill for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into chilled serving bowls. Spoon a dollop of sour cream onto each bowlful and top with a sprig of cilantro.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Finding Our Way

One of my dearest friends, the one I call mi Hermana, just sent me a book in the mail, called Oliver Finds His Way. It arrived at the perfect moment. Her inscription read:
"Even though this is from my toddler world, I'm pretty sure you'll get the parallel."
How could I not? We often compare her life with toddlers to my life with teenagers, and laugh about how similar our plights and preparations are. (Someday I'll do a post about that, too.)

Two weeks ago, this friend came to visit from California, with her adorable toddlers in tow. We rolled in the grass with a litter of brand new puppies, and a couple of days later we (just the two of us) went hiking in the woods. For hours. Trying to make up for the face time we haven't had in about two years. It was essential.

Of course one of the things weighing heaviest on my mind at the time was how I could prepare our home for Josh's return. And many of you have asked how that first-in-nearly-five-months homecoming went.

Well, allow me to quote from the picture book about the little lost bear:
While Mama hangs the wash out and Papa rakes the yard, Oliver chases a big yellow leaf...all the way to the edge of the woods. Oliver stops. He looks around. Nothing is familiar. Mama? Papa? he calls. No answer. Oliver is lost!

All alone at the edge of the woods, Oliver has an idea.
"Roar! R o a r! R O A R!"

From far away, under a tree, around a bush, and up a hill, Oliver hears Mama roaring back. Oliver hears Papa roaring back. Oliver runs and runs...under the twisty tree, around the clumpy bush, up the hill, all the way to his very own house with a pile of leaves and wash on the line. All the way to Mama and Papa with tumble-down hugs...and a big yellow leaf just for Oliver.
So, in a nutshell, Josh found his way home. With a radiant countenance and a heart at peace. It was wonderful to have him here, even for a few days. I couldn't get over how good he looks, how helpful he was, how content he seemed just to be with us, to be Home. We welcomed him with tumble-down hugs (love that phrase!) and I hope that, like the bear in the book, he found at home what he'd wandered off in search of in the first place.

Few people know of my fondness-bordering-on-0bsession for children's books. Their beauty — and their ability to capsulize universal truths — astounds me. I sat down on the couch in the family room and read this one aloud, for the first-time, to our 10-year-old. I tried not to choke up when I got to the part where Oliver listens for his parents and finds his way home. And couldn't help myself when I read about the tumble-down hugs.

If I could remind our son Josh of anything at all after his first visit home, it would be that any longing for home we feel is a soft echo of the way our spirits innately yearn for our Heavenly Home. (Where someday I hope they'll welcome us back with tumble-down hugs!)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Coming Home

If there were such a thing as roll call in the blogosphere, the most likely vehicle would be your comment boxes. And Charrette has been absent to a degree bordering on truancy. Some of you might be relieved to know I've silently logged on to read a few posts. (Others might be offended by that. Sorry.)

Other than crazy summer schedules having completely taken over our lives, I have one very big reason for my disappearance. Our oldest son is coming home for a few days, after nearly five months of being away. We've been working so hard to prepare our home for his arrival, inside and out. And to prepare our hearts (which is the easier part, it seems). I get overwhelmed by big projects. My mother-in-law, like an angel of mercy, swooped down and spent most of Saturday tearing through the basement like a white tornado. What a godsend!

This time I want the house to look and feel familiar, but different: More order, less clutter. More structure, less chaos. More refinement, fewer rough edges. More engaging family time, fewer people isolating themselves via electronic media. And if it's possible to have any more love than we already have, I totally want that too.

One of the most rewarding projects we undertook was to reframe and hang dozens of family photos that had been in storage. My husband is a wonderfully gifted photographer. His black-and-white shots of the children are timeless works of art, capturing not only their looks but their individual personalities on film. Yet still I was amazed at what a warm environment it created to hang them all — even the ones from less-gifted photographers. :) I love seeing our children smiling back at me through so many stages of life.

I have learned that it requires extraordinary vision and focus and commitment to create what I see in my head (and my heart) for our home: A protective circle. Sacred space. I want a sense of love and joy to envelop him the moment he walks through the door. I want it to be that way for all of us. The progress has been long and slow. But I think we might just pull it off.

p.s. You really must visit my friend Heather of the EO and see what she posted today....